User Experience – what’s the difference to Usability?

July 21, 2021

Usability and User experience are two terms that come up a lot in the tech world. Sometimes they’re even used interchangeably. To avoid such confusion, let’s define these terms and see how they relate to each other.

User Experience (UX) is no longer a fancy new term in the digital industry. The discipline has gained recognition and has been adopted by companies of all sizes for its ability to guide them toward successful product strategy.

User Experience deals with many aspects of the business, as it encompasses processes that deal with the different steps of product development. The UX process starts as a project starts and serves as a guide to ensure that the product development is continuous, iterative, and focused on the user.  UX also relies on the different skills and knowledge of its multidisciplinary teams to be able to address the entire user experience.

This makes it quite jargon-heavy which may lead to vague interpretation of key terms and misunderstanding. In our experience, the terms Usability and User Experience are often victims of such lack of clarity and are often used interchangeably. This creates confusion and can hinder smooth product development. We don’t want that. We want to be on the same page with our clients because we know it’s the best way to a successful project. Let’s do that by defining each term.

So what is Usability?

A digital product is first and foremost a solution to a problem. It is designed and developed to help its user achieve a certain goal. That goal can be anything from a practical service like ordering something online, to fulfilling an emotional aspect like social communication. 

When we talk about Usability we are interested in the functionality of a product. A product is usable when users can successfully and easily achieve their goals using the product. As covered by NN/g, Usability is assessed by looking at different attributes.

  • Ease of use and learnability: For first-time users and returning users, is the product easy to understand and use from the get-go? Or is a learning curve required? How difficult is it to use the product? How memorable is the product? Do users have to relearn the product after some time off from it?
  • Efficiency: How efficient is the product in achieving the results? How fast can the users reach their goals?
  • Error handling: Does the product consider the potential errors made by users? How are those errors handled? Do they block the overall usage of the product or can the user simply recover and continue?
  • Satisfaction: How does the user feel about the design? Is it pleasant and appealing?

What about User Experience?

User Experience is the umbrella term used for all the concepts and methods that go about discovering and analyzing a problem, designing solutions for it, and making sure that they live up to a user’s needs and expectations. The goal is to satisfy all aspects intersecting with the user from functionality to Usability, and even aesthetics. It’s everything that contributes to the perceived experience that someone goes through with regard to a product. Does it target a problem I face? Does it help to reach my goal? Does it talk to me in a way that I understand and appreciate? Does it feel easy to use? Does it appeal to me? Do I like using it? Does it make my life (a little bit) better?

So if we take a step back, we realize that Usability is actually a component of User Experience. It is a vital component that contributes to the foundation for a good User Experience. Without Usability, the end product is likely to fail to meet users’ needs and expectations. The goal of User Experience is to gather all the components that make up a successful product in one harmonious process. To truly benefit from the UX process, it is important to acknowledge all of its parts and invest time and effort into each. Apart from Usability, another component of UX that is worth delving deep into and defining is User Interface (UI). Look out for a future article on the topic!

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